University of Dundee

Researchers scoop over €4 million in prestigious EU funding competition

09 Dec 2020

Two projects led by School researchers have been awarded millions in funding to help develop their pioneering frontier research in life sciences.

The European Research Council (ERC) today announced the winners of its latest Consolidator Grant competition, with a total of €655 million awarded to Europe’s top researchers to aid in the development of their research projects.

Dr Yogesh Kulathu and Dr Jorunn Bos have been awarded the grants for their research projects that look to investigate unexplored areas of cell biology and explore novel ways to provide plant protection, respectively.

Dr Kulathu’s project, StressHUb, aims to gain insights into the fundamental principles regulating stress at the cellular level. The €2.1 million ERC funding will enable Dr Kulathu and his colleagues to develop new technologies and methodologies for use in understanding how unresolved stress results in disease. The cells of our body are constantly exposed to stresses, such as UV light and carcinogens, heat, and metabolic stresses. Cells use intricate intracellular signalling pathways to translate these environmental challenges into appropriate cellular responses. Currently, these signals – and the reasons why they go wrong in disease – are poorly understood due to the lack of tools and methods to study them.

Dr Kulathu, MRC Investigator and Group Leader at the Medical Research Council Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit (MRC PPU), said, “We are studying almost unexplored areas of cell biology which has immense potential for ground-breaking discoveries. StressHUb will explore the functions of branched heterotypic ubiquitin chains (HUbs) in cellular stress responses. These branched HUbs play important roles in the physiology of human cells, however, their functions have not been defined because of the complex nature of these modifications and the lack of ways to study them.

“We will develop novel tools and methodologies which will reveal the cellular machinery that makes these modifications, how they are formed in response to stress, and their roles in resolving cellular stress. This knowledge can then be used to develop drugs to treat various diseases where cellular stress is not resolved, such as neurodegeneration, chronic inflammatory diseases and cancer.”

Dr Bos, a principal investigator in the Division of Plant Sciences and the James Hutton Institute based in Invergowrie, and her project, APHIDTRAP, will explore and develop new ways to provide crop protection against insects. The grant, worth almost €2 million, will allow her research team to take new directions to answer important questions on how insects such as greenfly and blackfly, commonly known as aphids, are such successful pests. Current aphid control relies almost exclusively on insecticides, which are costly, damaging to the environment and to which aphids develop resistance. Dr Bos and her team are interested in understanding the molecular dialogue that takes place between plants and aphids to come up with new solutions.

“This project is building on years of work by members of my team, past and present, and without them this would not have been possible,” said Dr Bos. “The key questions that drive APHIDTRAP are building on previous findings that aphids can actively promote host susceptibility using effector proteins. The function of these effector proteins is based on association with host proteins and modification of their activity. The next step is to try and understand how these protein-protein interactions take place, and what the downstream consequences are with regards to susceptibility.”

The ERC Consolidator Grants are awarded to outstanding researchers of any nationality and age, with at least seven and up to twelve years of experience after PhD, and a scientific track record showing great promise. Research must be conducted in a public or private research organisation located in one of the EU Member States or “Associated” Countries. The ERC received 2,506 Consolidator Grant research proposals in 2020, from which approximately 13% will be funded overall. The funding is part of the EU’s current research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020. 

Share